The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #110621   Message #2328433
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
29-Apr-08 - 06:20 AM
Thread Name: Bertsongs? (songs of A. L. 'Bert' Lloyd)
Subject: RE: Bertsongs?
It does seem that some contributors to this discussion have not understood the issues involved, and spreading the topic over three simultaneous threads hasn't helped to achieve a constructive focus. To paraphrase what I have said elsewhere:

1. A L Lloyd was a fundamentally important figure in the folksong revival of the 1950s and thereafter, both as a performer and as a scholar.

2. It is unremarkable when revival performers make alterations to material they have learned from others, or from print sources; though it is helpful if they say that they have made changes rather than just characterising their songs as 'traditional', which may mislead. Although there are parallels with the ways in which songs became changed during the course of transmission in the 'old' tradition, revival modifications may be more self-conscious and calculated, and should not be confused with the 'folk process' as it was understood by the song collectors of the first half of the 20th century and before.

3. Scholars, by contrast, are expected to be scrupulously honest about the material they present. To be anything less than frank about their personal editorial interventions is deliberately to deceive, and this is rarely excusable.

4. As both performer and scholar, Lloyd occupied something of a grey area. As a performer, he naturally polished (sometimes completely rewrote) his material; as a scholar, to quote Roy Palmer's words, 'it seems reasonable to suggest that he should have been more forthcoming with details of his editorial interventions'. The trouble is that he often confused the two roles; and, not unnaturally, those who looked to him for material, commentary, and inspiration were also confused and tended to treat it all as gospel.

5. The fact that Lloyd's re-writes were eminently successful from an aesthetic point of view is irrelevant to questions as to their authenticity as 'traditional' songs. Where unavowed, they misrepresent his sources, and have given many people a false picture of the past and of the traditions that he promoted. To argue that none of this matters 'because they are good songs' is to miss the point entirely. It is precisely because they are good songs that they mislead if presented as authentic products of the tradition. I recall 'The Ship in Distress' (as it appeared in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs) being praised for the lines 'In the blusterous wind and the great dark water' and 'A full-dressed ship like the sun a-glittering' as authentic examples of the poetic genius of the untutored traditional singer of the old times. Bert wrote those lines, but he never let on.

6. Discussion of this kind is not in essence (and should not be allowed to become, as I pointed out in the 'Blackleg Miner' thread) an attack upon its subject; some detailed re-evaluation of the material that Lloyd introduced to the Revival, and his underlying motives is, however, necessary in view of his enormous influence, and in view of the (evidently) wide misunderstanding of its significance. All the earlier prime movers have been the subjects of such re-evaluations, and it is currently the turn of Lloyd, MacColl and Kennedy. It is only through such re-evaluations in the light of new evidence that we can understand what they actually did, and how it has affected our own understanding; and our pre-conceptions.

Re 'Skewball'.

The webpage indicated earlier makes the beginner's mistake of assuming that, because occasionally some of the numbers in Bodleian shelfmarks look like dates, that that is what they are. They are not. The broadside it claims as 'dated 1784' (Harding B 25(1784)) is nothing of the kind, and if the compiler had looked at the next entry he or she would have seen that Harding B 25(1785) is dated 'between 1821 and 1838'; it is just the next in the number sequence.

I can't imagine why Dick thought it necessary to copy-and-paste the entire page here; the bulk of it is irrelevant to this discussion.

As it happens, the Kildare race took place at the Curragh in 1752, when Arthur Mervin's Skewball beat Sir Ralph Gore's grey mare. Gore's bay mare, Sportley (named in the broadside) wasn't involved, though Skewball did beat her in two races in England in July 1747. The incidents were confused or conflated, presumably, by whoever wrote the broadside; quite possibly long after the event. The American 'Stewball' appears to be a separate song on the same subject.

The only substantive comment I can find so far on Bert's 'Skewball' is 'this version is Irish in origin', which tells us very little. In fact it seems only very rarely to have been found in Ireland (Roud lists only one Irish version at present). Whether or not any oral example is known that resembles the Lloyd one I can't say. It might be worth looking into further.